Another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity, states the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. A too long time according to Elja Abdullaeva, 34, based in Amsterdam, founder of ConnectHer, who has decided to roll up her sleeves and take matters into her own hands. Born in Azerbaijan, Elja at the age of 9 ended up in a small village near Amersfoort. Together with her family she came to the Netherlands as refugees, seeking more stability.
“It was difficult, especially because we were in a little village, where people are not always as international and open-minded as in Amsterdam or Rotterdam”. But she did not allow herself to be discouraged, “I always wanted to stand on my own legs” she says.
From English Teacher to Recruiter
Holding a bachelor degree as English Teacher, Elja worked for a while in the educational field. But soon she realized it wasn’t her thing, deciding to move on. The goal? Get another degree in England, in Human Resource Management and Marketing. Although graduating with honors, she quickly found herself lost in a harsh and competitive job market.
“Once I came back, I sent more than 70 applications. I don’t know how many motivational letters I have been writing, but nothing .. it was really difficult”.
Despite two degrees in her pocket, Elja went through hard times finding a job until she started working in a Recruitment company in Amsterdam, where slowly she became more aware of the reality surrounding her.
“One of the first things they were asking me was ‘can you find some female employees?”
Indeed, within most of the companies there was clearly a shortage of women and definitely an abundance of men, which makes the working environment less female-friendly”. Quite surprised about the request, Elja started laying the groundwork for her future project ConnectHer, which today has more than 500 active users.
A drawing becoming reality
Although most of the women nowadays are highly educated, female employment scores are still low. And Elja’s (but not only) experience is a confirmation of the latter. “I started acknowledging that as I have been going through hard times, many other women must have had the same experience” which let me form the idea of ConnectHer, an online platform made by women for women.
“Many people in my network said I was crazy, how could I pretend competing with big names such as LinkedIn & Facebook” but more than competing with Mark Zuckerberg & Co, what drives Elja is the urge not to abandon the others but trying to unify the forces.
“When I came up with the idea, I had neither entrepreneurial nor technical experiences” she continues. Resolute, she reached out to some female role models, asking them for advice and suggestions, eventually to seek support. But the reaction was disappointing, says Elja “Out of 10 women, 9 didn’t even reply. So I just did it myself!”
With a drawing on a piece of paper in her hand and clear ideas in her mind, she recruited a developer, rigorously female and that’s how the platform came to life.
Female LinkedIn: ConnectHer
ConnectHer is an all-in-one platform for professional women as can be read on the frontpage. Indeed as explained by Elja the platform includes many facets, spanning from networking and finding job opportunities to mentoring program and much more. While the core idea remains always offering more visibility to women.
“The more we can see each other, the more we can also re-direct business to each other”
For now, the website is a beta-version, available both in Dutch and English. But Elja has bigger plans in mind.
“I’m not gonna wait for anybody anymore, so that’s why I said, I do it myself and then we’ll see what happens and if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t then at least I tried. I have nothing to lose. I sold my house to invest in it, but other than that. Together, I hope we can make it” she concludes.
*picture credits to Raul Neijhorst